12 Common Cactus Myths: Debunked
Perhaps you have heard that cactus help purify the air, or the bigger the pot, the larger the cactus will become. You might have read on the internet that having a cactus beside the computer will reduce radiation. These ideas are all myths!
Here are 12 common cactus myths that novice collectors often believe:
- Growing cacti brings bad luck,
- Cactus is not succulent,
- Cactus require hot sunny weather conditions,
- Cactus are hard to kill,
- Cactus need special soil to thrive,
- Cactus do not need water,
- The larger the container, the bigger the cactus will become,
- Cactus can reduce radiation from a computer,
- Shrinking cactus is a dying cactus,
- The colored top of the moon cactus is a flower,
- Cactus helps purify air quality, and
- Cactus do not flower.
Cactus has a mystique and really great characteristic compared with other plants. Due to their peculiar traits, there are several rumors and misconceptions about them. I will uncover and debunk the myths about them and set the record straight.
1- Growing Cacti Brings Bad Luck
Cactus does not bring bad luck, but placing a spikey cactus in a spot that can be accidentally touched will be dangerous. Those sharp spines can prick and can be excruciating. It can penetrate the skin and make it bleed.
Many people believe the superstition that having cactus in your surrounding attract negative energy and brings bad luck. According to most Feng Shui experts, the cactus is the worst plant due to its spikes that bring bad luck and bad vibes.
It can be partially true if you place your cacti to a spot where it can prick you. Spikey cactus place in areas such as near the doors, tables, and bedsides is not a good idea. If you’re not careful, it can cut your skin and irritate it, and that’s for sure is a bad thing.
2- Cactus Is Not Succulent
Cacti belong to the Cactaceae family, a sub-category of the group of plants called succulents. So cacti are succulents. What makes cactus succulent is its fleshy stems that store water.
This is not true, and it is a misconception when it comes to cactus and succulents. First off, one can call all cacti succulents but cannot call all succulents cacti. In general, succulents and cacti are drought survivors and adapted to extreme weather.
While cacti and other succulent groups have closely related characteristics, they appear to be distinct. Cacti have areoles where spines develop. In other succulent plants, there are spines, but areoles are absent. The absence of leaves in most cacti somewhat makes people thought that it is not succulent.
3- Cactus Require Hot Sunny Weather Conditions
Not all cacti require a hot, sunny climate. Light and temperature requirements vary for each cacti species. Although most are native to the desert region, some originate from rainforests, and others can even tolerate frost.
One of the popular beliefs is that all cacti love scorching and dry environments like the desert. I bet experienced growers may disagree with this idea. With almost 2,000 cacti species, each has its growing conditions with varying light requirements and temperature preferences.
Some cacti love basking under the hot sun for several hours without being scorched. Golden Barrel cactus, Ferocactus, and Pachyverias are few examples of sun-loving cacti. They can tolerate extreme heat and direct sunlight because they have long spines that shade and protect their stem from sunburn.
However, certain species, such as Schlumbergera, Rhipsalis, and Moon Cactus, are sensitive to prolonged sun exposure. They’ll get burn and may wilt if left on the open under direct sunlight.
On the other hand, Opuntia species can tolerate the ice in winter.
4- Cactus Are Hard To Kill
An improper growing approach can kill a cactus. While it is true that cacti are tough and can endure harsh weather, lack of water and light for a while, it doesn’t mean that they are indestructible. Cactus in cultivation should be given proper care.
Indeed, the native desert cactus has a high tolerance to drastic outside factors. They can get by with so little water and survive the hot summer sun. In contrast, cacti at home and in the garden are entirely divergent from those growing in the wild and should be provided with suitable growing conditions.
Cactus outside their natural habitat must be cultivated in a way that would imitate their native environment. Plant them on a gritty substrate, do not overwater, keep from too much sun, and avoid too much nutrients, are just a few of the crucial points to note to keep a cactus thriving.
Give your cactus a suitable growing environment, and it will survive for several years. But do just one malpractice, and you’ll end up killing them.
5- Cactus Need Special Soil To Thrive
Cactus needs a loose, well-draining growing medium that retains enough moisture for a short while. They thrive in such not-so-rich soil that can be easily prepared and commercially available.
Although they don’t need some kind of special or unique soil as some people think, cacti nonetheless benefit from a medium adjusted for their needs.
Garden soil is not recommended for use with cacti as it quickly gets compacted, slowly dries out with abundant pathogens. These are soil qualities that should be avoided when growing cactus.
On the other hand, the characteristics of soil that a cactus needs are simple – fast-draining, fast-drying, and loose.
6- Cactus Do Not Need Water
What live plant doesn’t need watering? Even though cacti can tolerate drought, they will not survive without water. They can get by several months with just a little to drink, but a prolonged period of no water will lead to dehydration with evident signs such as shrunk stems and it will ultimately kill them.
This is a common misconception, especially with beginners. Most people thought that cactus need little to no water, but in fact, it’s the opposite.
Cactus require adequate but infrequent watering. You may water once or twice a week, but always allow the soil to dry out in between watering.
Proper watering is a vital part of growing a vibrant, healthy cactus. While an overwatered cactus has a considerable chance of rotting, an underwatered cactus has a significant chance of shriveling. Both improper growing practice is not beneficial to the plant.
7- The Larger the Container the Bigger the Cactus Will Becomes
A bigger planter does not always necessarily mean more plant growth. Planting an overgrown cactus in a slightly larger container is good. However, growing a cactus in a container that is too large for its size may suppress its growth and result in diseases. If the container is too big, it will contain more potting medium, and drying will take more time, unfavorable for the cactus.
This is another misinformation that confuses a lot of amateurs. The truth behind this is that bigger containers do not guarantee more plant growth. Planting a small cactus on a too-large container can cause several negative impacts on the plant’s growth, leading to its death.
Potential overwatering is the effect of having a tiny cactus in a large planter due to poor drainage. It will retain more moisture, allowing the cactus to sit on wet feet for longer, leading to root rot. The growth of molds and fungus that will cause infection to the plant is also possible.
Avoid these harmful effects on your cacti by planting them in a proportional container. Cactus would grow best in a pot 1-2 inches bigger (not much more ideally) than their stem with a depth adequate to accommodate their roots’ growth and support the plant’s weight.
8- Cactus Can Reduce Radiation From Computer
Contrary to what most people think, cacti beside a computer do not help reduce nor absorb radiation. Electromagnetic Field Radiation from gadgets travels only in a straight line like light. Therefore, for a cactus to mitigate and absorb radiation, it must be between the device and the user. This will make the device unusable and not be of any benefit as the computer radiation is safe.
The legend is moving around the web, telling people about the discovery of NASA regarding cactus plants absorbing radiation. It is essential to note that the radiation that NASA used in the research is the ionizing radiation or the harmful high-level energy particles that can change molecular structure, such as in x-rays. This is not the radiation coming out from our daily life devices.
The radiation that a computer emits is non-ionizing radiation, or low-level radiation, and is harmless to humans. There is some truth about this: cactus can absorb radiation like any dense material absorbing EMF. Since radiation only travels in straight lines, you need to place the cactus in front of the computer to block the radiation.
However, it will only restrict a small portion of emitted radiation unless you have a massive cactus in between you and the computer that will block all the light coming from the device.
9- Shrinking Cactus Are Dying Cactus
Although shrinking is not typical for a healthy cactus, it does not always translate to a dying cactus. Assess the plant and determine what causes the shrinking. Sometimes it is natural for a cactus to shrink when dormant and aging.
Root rot: There are cases when a shrinking cactus is dying due to rotting. Depending on the severity of the deterioration, a cactus may or may not recover. But shrinking will not mean you will be saying goodbye to your cactus.
Dehydration: Shrinking can be due to dehydration. You can do something about your plant! Just supply your shriveled, dehydrated cactus with water twice every week, and you’ll be surprised how it bounces back to being plumped again.
Sunburn: Cactus can also shrink due to sunburn. However, this will not cause them to die. Even in the worst-case scenario that it won’t revert to its original form, it can still survive if placed away from direct and intense sunlight.
Aging & Dormancy: Another natural way of shrinking is when a cactus is going into dormancy or aged. These are signs of shrinking that shouldn’t worry you.
10- Colored Top Of The Moon Cactus Is a Flower
The colorful top part of a moon cactus is another cactus, and it is not a flower. Moon cactus is a union of two different cacti species attached by grafting. The colored top has undergone mutation, while the base is just another cactus species with lots of chlorophyll.
People not familiar with how the moon cactus is made will generally say that the vibrant top is the plant’s flower. The top colored part is a Gymnocalycium mihanovichii cactus with no chlorophyll, and the green bottom is the rootstock Hylocereus cactus.
The two cacti species are joined because the bright-colored cactus on top (not a flower) cannot survive on its own due to a lack of chlorophyll. Therefore, it needs a host cactus, one that can supply water and nutrients. When the colored top cactus matures, it will produce a fantastic bloom, and that will be the actual flower.
11- Cactus Helps Purify Air Quality
Cactus can make a house or office space lively, but claims about their capacity to purify and improve air quality are overstated. Scientific studies reveal that natural air exchange or ventilation can purify air far better than a reasonable amount of plants can do.
According to Dr. Michael Waring, a professor and head of environment research group at Drexel University, plants do not purify indoor air substantially to have an effect on air quality at the office or home environment. After reviewing several studies, Waring and another doctor colleague have drawn and published their conclusion in a Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology.
The finding is that the natural air exchange rate in indoor spaces, such as offices and homes, can reduce toxin concentrations (volatile organic compounds) much faster than the plants can filter them from the air. According to Harvard University, in an average American house or office, indoor air is replaced by outside air in an hour.
Through Dr. Waring’s calculations, you would need 100 to 1000 plants per square meter to compete with the air cleaning capacity of natural ventilation (e.g., open windows). If you want an efficient air purifier at home, you could just open your window and let the outside air in.
12- Cactus Do Not Flower
Cacti are like other plants that are capable of producing prominent flowers. Most cacti varieties have exquisite huge blossoms such as Echinopsis, Gymnocalycium, and Parodia that bloom under suitable conditions.
The misconception about cacti not flowering is due to unfavorable growing conditions that hinder the plant from blooming. Too much water, intense heat, and an imbalance of light and darkness exposure can retard the ability of the cactus to produce a flower.
Most cactus bloom in early spring and summer, while others do not bloom until winter.
Each cacti species have their timing of flowering. Some cactus bloom during the daytime (diurnal flower), some flower buds open at night (nocturnal bloomers).
Cactus flowers can be pollinated and will result in seed pods containing hundreds of seeds. In some cactus species, flowers will develop into mostly edible fruit such as Opuntia Fruits and Hylocereus (dragon fruit).
- “Secrets of Feng Shui,” Academia Education
- “Ionizing Radiation,” Purdue University
- “Why doesn’t my laptop emit radiation?” by Dr. Christopher Baird, West Texas A & M University
- “Michael Waring Biography,” Drexel University
- “College of Engineering,” Drexel University
- “House Plants Don’t Really Clean Indoor Air,“ Harvard University
- Cummings, B.E., Waring, M.S. Potted plants do not improve indoor air quality: a review and analysis of reported VOC removal efficiencies. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 30, 253–261 (2020).
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